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Kannapolis hopes to knock it out of the park with stadium

Artist 3D rendering of new stadium

By Dave Friedman.  In an aging stadium with no seats shaded from the summer sun, and few modern amenities, the Kannapolis Intimidators averaged a South Atlantic League low of 1,115 fans per game to watch during the season which concluded the first week of September.

Intimidators Ballpark is located just off I-85 at Exit 63, near a Baptist church and not much else. It sits five miles from a downtown that is being infused by resources and modernization efforts. In terms of urban dynamics, the minor league baseball team might as well be half a world away.

“This is a critical piece to the downtown revitalization,” said Kannapolis City Manager Mike Legg. “Our research shows that baseball stadiums are a huge driver of investment.”

Construction began Oct. 30 on the team’s new home, right in the heart of downtown. It is scheduled to open in time for the 2020 season.

Expectations for this new park go way beyond home runs and strikeouts.

Legg points to Durham, which opened a new stadium downtown in 1995. Over a 15-year span the turnaround proved dramatic for the city. Legg said that vacancy rates were nearly 90-percent and crime rampant before the new ballpark was built. Now there is limited available space, just 10-percent vacancies, and more than $1billion has been invested in the area. It is a place that people regularly go to eat, drink, and enjoy the stadium, but not just for bats and balls in the summer.

“This is not just about attendance and baseball, though that is a piece of it,” said Legg. “This is about living, working and visiting downtown.”

While the Intimidators will host 70 regular season games, hopes are high that the new facility will be in use for 200 or more events a year. From concerts to gatherings—the new stadium will be equipped with a 6,000 square foot banquet space—it will bring people downtown and fuel growth.

Kannapolis hired Brailsford & Dunlavey (B&D) Venues to study the viability of a new ballpark in 2015. Over a couple of years the consultants found that the facility would be a catalyst for economic development. They found in comparing 30 Class A minor league markets that the Kannapolis regional area had a higher total population and higher level of economic activity than three-quarters of similar communities, and a higher household income than two-thirds of Class A markets.

The study estimated a new ballpark to have an annual economic impact of $9.3 million and would support 248 new jobs. B&D estimated a demand for 8,600 hotel rooms annually, and a total investment to the area of nearly $500 million ($374 million in private investment, and $113 million in public investment).

“We are in a great spot to see a renaissance,” said Intimidators general manager Brian Rendle. “I am excited to finally see it happen. This has been years and years and years of planning, the bulk on the city’s end. They studied how it would work, justified it, and are getting it done. Everyone in the city has rallied together to make this happen. This means everything to us and the community.”

Kannapolis was slow to recover from the economic downturn as well as the bankruptcy in 2003 of Pillowtex, eliminating more than 4,000 textile jobs. While the North Carolina Research Campus has brought life back to the city, downtown was largely left behind. But the city purchased 46 acres of downtown for $8.75 million from NCRC visionary David Murdock, giving Kannapolis full control.

With a blank canvas came the idea to build a ballpark. The new venue is great news for the team, and has spurred lots of interest from the business community.

An agreement for the Intimidators to be purchased was finalized in September. Temerity Baseball LLC will lease the park for $450,000 a year for the first three seasons, and that figure will increase by $35,000 every three years. However, the new ownership group is eyeing much more than just baseball.

“They are investing in not just the team, but the whole re-development of downtown,” said Rendle. “They are heavily involved in the whole project. They want to control lots of development, and are looking at properties all around the ballpark working hand-in-hand with the city.”

There are already commitments of $128 million in investments downtown, including apartments, a brewery, restaurants, office space and potentially a hotel.

Intimidators tickets range from $5 to $11 a seat, likely to go up marginally at the new park. The team’s primary revenue comes from attendance, advertising and merchandise sales. The new ballpark will positively impact each of the streams. To understand how dramatic the impact can be, look just down the road.

The Triple-A Charlotte Knights, playing in Fort Mill, were last in the International League drawing 3,803 fans per game during their final year in the Charlotte suburbs in 2013. They were losing money, and had around 15 full time employees. Since moving to their new uptown home, BB&T Park, the team has averaged the highest attendance in all of the minor leagues in four of the last five seasons, more than 9,000 fans a contest. They have 45 full time employees, and the attraction has proved to be about much more than baseball.

“It’s the activity and synergy you have with people living and working uptown,” said Knights general manager Dan Rajkowski. “It is special to look out the window and see a game going on. When 600,000 people show up for 80 nights, it makes an impact on bars and restaurants and really the development of the whole 3rd Ward.”

While the Knights, like Durham, play Triple-A ball, plenty of Single-A teams like Kannapolis have seen the ballpark effect. Augusta, GA, saw their attendance go up by 30-percent last year when a new venue opened. Greenville, SC saw a jump of more than 60-percent when they moved downtown in 2005.

“The trend is easy to see,” said  Rajkowski. “Downtown ballparks with updated technology lead to redevelopment of the city center. There have been lots of tremendous successes. It is a community asset.”

The new owner of the Intimidators has a deep bench.

Temerity Capital Partners of Washington, D.C., lead by Andy Sandler, advises early-stage companies developing new technologies in financial services. He is founder and chairman of Treliant, a privately owned and operated financial services industry consulting firm, as well as CEO and founder of Asurity Technologies, a software firm focused on providing automated compliance management solutions for the mortgage and banking industries. He is also the founder of Buckley Sandler, a law firm with 160 lawyers in Washington, D.C., New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and London.



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